Korean government’s compromise plan for medical reform swiftly rejected by doctors

Posted on : 2024-04-22 16:32 KST Modified on : 2024-04-22 16:32 KST
Even medical school faculty who had stayed for moderate on the issue have inched into the hard-liner camp
Health care professionals ride an escalator at a hospital in Seoul on April 21, 2024. (Yonhap)
Health care professionals ride an escalator at a hospital in Seoul on April 21, 2024. (Yonhap)

Despite South Korea’s government putting forth a plan that would allow medical schools to lower quotas for new students by up to 50%, physicians on walkout say that the measure is not enough, and are continuing to call for the enrollment expansion plan to be taken back to the drawing board. 
Even medical professors, who had advocated for a modest increase in the quota rather than the concrete number of 2,000, have opted for a more hard-line stance after the government announced its openness to compromise on medical school placements. 
The Korea Association of Medical Colleges (KAMC), which is made up of the deans and presidents of 40 medical schools nationwide, issued an appeal to the government on Sunday. 

“For the sake of the return of medical interns, residents, and students as well as the schedule for the 2025 entrance examination and freeze the quota for medical school admissions for that academic year,” the statement read. 
They also requested that “a consultative committee be formed with the medical community to scientifically calculate the number of admission seats for the 2026 academic year and beyond, and to determine the future supply and demand of medical personnel.” In January, the KAMC suggested that 350 seats was the appropriate number for an expansion.
On Friday, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo stated that he would assent to the proposals sent in by presidents of national universities outside the Seoul metro and allow schools to autonomously make adjustments to the admissions quota by up to 50% for the 2025 academic year, which will start next spring. 
This allows them to adjust the quota of 2,000 students that President Yoon Suk-yeol emphasized as the “minimum necessary increase” in enrollment. 
Despite the government’s concessions, hard-liners in the medical community have gained momentum, with even relatively moderate medical professors joining the fray. 

Shin Chan-soo, the president of the KAMC, said, “The government’s proposal to reduce the quota in some schools by half while some are to reduce it by 30% is not based on scientific evidence or logic.”
The Korean Medical Association reaffirmed its position that medical school expansion should be withdrawn and rethought completely. 

“We emphasize that we do not accept the proposal because it is not a fundamental solution,” Kim Sung-geun, the spokesperson for the organization’s interim leadership committee, said on Saturday. Representatives of the medical community will also not participate in the president’s special committee on health care reform, which is scheduled to be launched this week.
The longer the government and physicians clash, the more harm will be done to patients and to health care professionals in the field, which is why some are advocating for dialogue.
Jo Seung-yeon, the director of Incheon Medical Center, said, “Even though the government has backed down, doctors are merely parroting their earlier arguments while not returning to hospitals.”
“If administrative penalties, such as the suspension of doctors’ licenses, are resumed, medical interns and residents will only suffer without seeing their demands fulfilled. They should engage in dialogue and make sure that their arguments are heard,” he added.
“Since the government is showing a willingness to concede, physicians’ associations should engage in some form of social dialogue instead of merely saying whatever it is they want to say,” said Song Geum-hee, the vice president of the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union.

By Lim Jae-hee, staff reporter; Cheon Ho-sung, staff reporter; Son Ji-min, staff reporter

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